Technically, humans will land on the Moon in 2024, but preparations for what’s to come after that – that is an orbital station around the Moon and eventually a base on the surface – will start much sooner.
In preparation for Artemis, NASA is running the so-called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. In essence, it is paying private companies for science and technology payloads delivery to the Moon. So far, names like Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and Orbit Beyond were awarded contracts for payload delivery between 2021 and 2023.
Another one joined the group this week, after it got a $93.3 million contract to land aboard something called Blue Ghost a number of ten science investigations and technology demonstrations in the satellite’s Mare Crisium region. The company is called Firefly Aerospace, and its goal is to help NASA investigate a variety of lunar surface conditions and resources.
More to the point, NASA will try and determine things such as how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment, acquire lunar regolith and ready it for shipment back to Earth for analysis, and even help measure more accurately the distance between the Earth and the Moon by using retroreflectors. You can look at all the experiments Firefly will get to the Moon in the press release section below.
“We’re excited another CLPS provider has won its first task order award. With this initiative, we seek to develop ways for new science and technology development utilizing a service-based model,” said in a statement Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“This allows U.S. vendors to not only demonstrate their ability to safely deliver payloads to our celestial neighbor, but also expand this capability for others who want to take advantage of this cutting edge approach to explore the Moon.”